Hockey: Tales from the Trough: ’Hogs halt losing streak, win one of three in week six

Rockford IceHogs rookie winger Brandon Saad (20) is all smiles as winger Martin St. Pierre (39) skates behind the Peoria net after scoring his third goal of the season. Peoria would go on to defeat Rockford 5-4 in a back-and-forth game. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

Rockford finally managed to stop the bleeding and ended their three-game losing streak in week five.

In a back-and-forth game Wednesday, Nov. 14, the IceHogs lost a high-scoring game to the Peoria Rivermen 5-4. Even two shorthanded goals couldn’t help Rockford overcome the defensive zone turnovers that have plagued the team thus far this season.

The first shorthanded goal was the first of the game, coming off the stick of team captain Martin St. Pierre. St. Pierre grabbed a loose puck in transition at the neutral zone and raced in with winger Brandon Saad at the opposite side of the ice, and blasted a quick shot behind Rivermen goaltender Jake Allen for a 1-0 lead with 4:21 expired in the first period.

Peoria took the lead with the next two goals. The first goal, a powerplay marker by Jaden Schwartz, tied the score at 1-1, and then a T.J. Hensick goal put the Rivermen ahead 2-1 with 3:47 left in the opening period.

It wasn’t until almost halfway through the second period that we saw our next goal, another shorthanded tally, but this time by Peter LeBlanc. In similar fashion to the first shorthanded goal, LeBlanc broke up a play in the neutral zone and got alone behind the defense on the left side. Another quick shot from beyond the faceoff circles eluded Allen, and the IceHogs tied the game up at 2-2.

Former IceHogs winger Derek Nesbitt brought Peoria ahead once again with a fast slapshot over the glove of Carter Hutton, which has appeared to be his weak spot this season, just as he entered the offensive zone. Nesbitt’s fifth goal of the season was one Hutton would like to have back again, as it should have been an easy grab.

Saad pulled the ’Hogs even again early in the final frame, scoring his second goal of the season on a great backdoor pass from Marcus Kruger.

The see-saw battle continued with Peoria’s Phil McRae putting the Rivermen ahead once again. For McRae, who tallied 23 goals for the Rivermen last season, it was only his first goal of the season.

Jeremy Morin continued the scoring frenzy, notching his fifth goal of the season. While Morin was fighting for position in front of the net, a Ben Smith shot found its way behind Allen and into the open crease. Morin used some strength to reach his stick out and poke it into the back of the net, tying the game up at 4-4.

A quick reply from Peoria put them ahead for good with a goal 1:32 later. Anthony Peluso parked his 6-foot, 4-inch frame in front of the net and cleaned up a rebound let out by Hutton for his fifth marker of the season, which turned out to be the game-winner as Peoria headed home with a 5-4 win.

Rockford remained at home in the friendly confines of the BMO Harris Bank Center for a matchup with the Houston Aeros for Los IceHogs night. Unfortunately for me, I was missing my first home game of the season because of a battle with bronchitis, but fortunately, our friends at WIFR-23 are broadcasting all games this season on Comcast cable channel 23.2, so I was able to cheer on the ’Hogs from home.

There wasn’t much cheering in the first, but quite a bit of fast-paced action with Rockford dominating most of the period. Both teams managed one powerplay attempt in the first period, but neither squad was able to put a point on the board.

That all changed 54 seconds into the second period with Kyle Beach scoring his fifth goal of the season. Just as Beach was heading out of the penalty box from a previous period penalty, the IceHogs grabbed the puck and raced into the offensive zone in numbers. Kruger was the first into the zone, and left a drop-pass for Ryan Stanton, who fired the puck past the net and off the back boards. The puck rebounded to Beach, who was waiting on the right side of the net to tap it home for the first goal of the game.

Smith added to Rockford’s lead 4 minutes later on a nice feed from Brandon Pirri. As Pirri raced into the zone on the left wing, he pulled the Houston defense with him, and set a nice backhand pass for Smith, who was left alone in the slot. Smith made good on the pass and beat goaltender Matt Hackett off his left side for a 2-0 lead.

Rockford’s lack of discipline put them in a big hole as the second period continued on, with Rockford committing five penalties in the frame, leaving the team shorthanded for almost 10 minutes of the period, including 1:30 of five-on-three. But Rockford’s 11th-ranked penalty kill bested Houston’s third-ranked powerplay unit and kept a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes.

A scary turn of events in the second period added another injury to Houston’s growing list. On TV, it wasn’t clear what happened, and a replay was not shown, but Steven Kampfer went down on the ice near Hutton with seemingly commonplace contact. It appeared the puck was trailing behind Kampfer, and he turned to get the puck, and the next thing that happened was Kampfer was face-down on the ice. Both trainers for Houston and Rockford made their way to the ice, and a stretcher was brought out for Kampfer. As of press time, there was no indication of Kampfer’s injuries, but it is hoped the injury was not serious.

Houston finally got a puck past Hutton 3:38 into the final frame on their eighth powerplay opportunity of the evening when Nick Palmieri notched his fifth goal of the season. A quick snapshot from the middle of the ice beat Hutton, and ended the bid for his second shutout of the season.

Rockford would fight off another penalty shortly after the goal, and Rockford would somehow hang on to a 2-1 win, killing off eight of nine Houston penalties, while Rockford went 0-1 with the extra skater.

The two teams met up again Sunday afternoon, Nov. 18, in St. Paul, Minn., at the Xcel Energy Center.

Once again, the IceHogs controlled the pace and tempo for most of the first period, until midway through the first period when Houston received their second power play of the game. Houston’s Justin Fontaine scored with only 2 seconds left of the power play to give the Aeros a 1-0 lead.

Johan Larsson added to that lead early in the second period with his fourth goal of the season to put Houston ahead 2-0 at the end of the second. Rockford continued to outshoot their opponent and held a 23-15 shot advantage after two periods, but nothing to show for it on the board.

Houston appeared to sit back in an attempt to conserve their lead, only amassing four shots on goal in the final period. Rockford would take full advantage of this and score two quick goals in a matter of 1:42, both powerplay markers.

Smith tallied the first of the two goals, an unassisted score, and rookie Adam Clendening scored his second of the season with assists from St. Pierre and Smith.

However, between these two goals, Larsson would score his second of the evening, a shorthanded goal, to put Houston up 3-1. Clendening was by the Rockford net, and wiped out on the ice, leaving the puck alone for Larsson, who cleaned up the mess.

Even though Rockford would tally a goal after the Houston shorty, Rockford could not get a third goal and Houston would come away with a 3-2 victory.

The equalizer in this game was Hackett in goal for Houston. Rockford should have had at least six goals this game, but Hackett played extremely well for Houston, and certainly earned the victory. One of the key saves came late in the game with Rockford pressing to tie the score. Kruger raced in on the right wing and Saad used his speed to get in front of his defender for an open shot. Kruger made a great pass across the ice to Saad, who attempted a quick tap-in, but Hackett somehow got his right pad and part of his stick over to deflect the shot for another save.

Keys for the week

1. Keeping opposing team shots to a minimum — Rockford has held their opponents to 25 or fewer shots in eight straight games, going back to Sunday, Oct. 28, against the San Antonio Rampage. Unfortunately, Rockford is only 3-5 through this eight-game stretch, but if the defense and goaltending can pick up the slack, and the offense can put points on the board, Rockford stands a chance at climbing in the rankings.

2. Defensive zone miscues — Once again, Rockford needs to secure the puck in their own end. By now, teams are starting to scout the ’Hogs’ weak defensive abilities in their own zone and are taking full advantage of the weakness.

Looking forward

Rockford has another three-game week in Week 7 with a single home game Wednesday, Nov. 21, against the Rivermen, and a Friday/Saturday doubleheader in Cleveland against the Lake Erie Monsters. Rockford’s home game against Peoria takes place at 7:05 p.m., and both road games against the Monsters start at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. (Eastern), respectively.

From the Nov. 21-27, 2012, issue

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